Tag Archives: science-fiction

‘The Star Fox,’ by Poul Anderson

The Star Fox

What I liked best about this book was that it’s a military science fiction novel written before political correctness. Thus, Poul Anderson’s The Space Fox is blessedly free of tiny little girls with mystic ninja skills who throw 200-pound men around in the manner of Summer Glau.

Centuries in the future, the earth is ruled by a Federation, which also has jurisdiction over various space colonies. One of the most promising of those colonies, New Europe (settled by Frenchpeople), has been conquered by an alien race, the Alerians. The Alerians report that all the human settlers have (unfortunately) been killed. The earth government, dominated by pacifists, is inclined to accept the fait accompli and cede the planet to them.

Gunnar Heim, industrialist, is not so sure. He knows New Europe and doesn’t find the Alerian story plausible. He expects that the humans there survive in the wilderness, and are waiting for relief from earth. When he meets a Hungarian folk singer who has brought evidence of just that, but can’t get a hearing from the government, he starts moving. With the help of a combative French (!) legislator, he concocts a scheme to exploit a loophole in the law to set out in his own war ship, the Space Fox, becoming a latter-day privateer.

The Star Fox was recommended to me by a friend as right up my alley, and it has numerous theoretical attractions for me. It was written by a Danish-American who grew up partly on a Minnesota farm. The hero, Gunnar, is a Norwegian-American who lapses into Norwegian in his conversation from time to time. And it was written as a commentary on the Vietnam War, which Anderson supported, as did I.

And yet, I didn’t love it as much as I should have. I don’t know what it is that puts me off about Poul Anderson. I’m in the habit of criticizing his characters, but I couldn’t really find fault with the characters here. Gunnar especially is very well drawn, and I was even moved by his troubles from time to time. Yet when I was finished, I had no great yearning to pick up another Anderson. So I guess it’s just me.

On that understanding, I recommend The Star Fox. In keeping with publishing norms in its time in history, it has no elements that make it unsuitable for any age of reader likely to enjoy it.

Uncurious Scientists Making Up Stuff

John C. Wright has a long essay on the suicide of thought, starting with the reason a group of natural scientists would believe geometry is empirical. Just to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, geometry is a logical science, which uses analytic reasoning. You don’t observe natural shapes and conclude the ratio of circles or hypotenuse of three-pointed things, and yet here was a group of scientists saying that’s where geometry is found.

Apparently they did this out of a commitment to materialism in opposition to rationalism or some combination of the two.

One of the many flaws in radical materialism is this: if radical materialism were true, radical empiricism must also be true, on the grounds that if nothing is real but matter, no knowledge is real except for knowledge about matter, and facts about matter can only be known by empiricism. But radical materialism is a universal metaphysical theory, and therefore cannot be known empirically, which means it cannot be known at all. Hence, if radical materialism were true, it is false.

It is a doctrine that refutes itself, something which the mere unambiguous statement of the terms proves false. No further argument is need, no other witnesses need be called.

Hence the final clue also fits the pattern, but also leads to a bigger mystery: the reasons why the teachers do not teach and the students do not learn about the basics of science is because of dogmatic yet illogical beliefs that cannot withstand such scrutiny that swirl about science.

These beliefs and beliefs like them are beliefs that make outrageous claims about the prestige of science, which is inflated to serve as a substitute religion. Such beliefs are called science worship. These beliefs flourish only in a dark age, when the lamp of reason is guttering or extinguished.

Science worshippers are not necessarily partisans of radical materialism and radical empiricism, but these and beliefs like them are friendly to science worship. Such beliefs dull the curiosity, encourage dismissive arrogance, or inspire bellicose narrowmindedness, which, in turn, forms a favorable environment to allow science worship to grow like mold.

Science worshippers do not do science, do not understand science, and are easily duped by junk science.

So, the lesser mystery of who killed Euclid now has to have a reasonable theory that fits the facts. Since teaching the truth about geometry and science would necessarily cast doubt on a cult belief about science worship that is prevalent in society, it can only be passed along from one uncurious mind to the next by indoctrination.

… Science worship is a symptom, but only one, of a deeper sickness that afflicts more than just one field of study, more than just one school of thought or more than just one topic.

A Sci-Fi Cuba as Earth Under New Management

For rent, one planet that’s lost its way in the race for development, that showed up at the stadium after all the medals had been handed out, when all that was left was the consolation prize of survival.

For rent, one planet that learned to play the economics game according to one set of rules but discovered once it started playing that the rules had been changed.

That planet in Yoss’ novel A Planet for Rent is a stand-in for 1990s Cuba. Emily A. Maguire describes the story of an unmanageable Earth. “In the interests of ‘saving Earth from itself,’ [aliens] have turned the planet, now a ‘Galactic Protectorate,’ into a vacation destination: Earth and its inhabitants exist solely to satisfy the desires of its alien visitors.” (via Prufrock News)

Rejecting the Roots of Science Fiction

I know, I know, I am a broken record about this stuff. But it never ceases to amaze me (in an unhappy way) how the so-called writers of Science Fiction, seem to be in such a huge hurry to run away from the roots of the field. I’ve read and listened to all the many arguments — pro and con, from both sides — about how Campbell rescued the field from the Pulp era, but then New Wave in turn rescued the field from the Campbell era. So it might be true that we’re finally witnessing the full maturation of SF/F as a distinct arena of “serious” literature, but aren’t we taking things too far? Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea for the field to continue its fascination with cultural critique — the number of actual nutty-bolty science types, in SFWA, is dwindling, while the population of “grievance degree” lit and humanities types, in SFWA, is exploding — while the broader audience consistently demonstrates a preference for SF/F that might be termed “old fashioned” by the modern sensibilities of the mandarins of the field?

Brad R. Torgersen, “The Martian and Mad Max

Primer, Watching Cold

I watched the 2004 movie Primer with barely any knowledge of it, which may be the best way to watch it. Shane Carruth wrote, directed, and stared in this detailed sci-fi story about four entrepreneurs who hope to make some kind of break-through on one of their garage-lab projects. When Abe discovers that a box they made does something unexpected, he tells Aaron and the two decide to pursue it. The scene below gives you a taste of the movie’s style while showing Abe and Aaron conducting their first experiment.

That’s the pace of the first quarter–realistic talk from scientific engineers who aren’t spelling anything out for the viewers at home. In this scene, I’m not sure Abe knows what’s going on yet, but he works it out and then tells Aaron everything. They’ve invented a time machine.

Since Abe draws this conclusion first, he experiments with the necessary components to make the box work, to make the box larger, and to survive within it–all before introducing it to Aaron.

That’s when the story goes from a bit tedious to mind-bending. Carruth hasn’t given us a simple lark about time-traveling engineers trying to better their lives or two ordinary guys trying to change the course of history. He’s written a story that pushes into the paradoxes bound to occur when someone breaks time’s linear progression.

For example, if someone could go back in time a day or a week in order to prevent a major crime or gain a windfall in the lottery or stock market, once he goes back to do this he removes his motive for going back. If on Saturday he decides to return to Monday in order to stop a crime and he succeeds, what happens when he returns to Saturday again? Having stopped the crime, he doesn’t have any reason to go back to Monday. So what happens? Are the first days overridden by the second? What he had discovered time travel during that week; would revisiting to Monday delay or prevent the discovery that enabled him to go back?

What if you began to see it the opposite way, as a way to avoid consequences? What if you could go back in time, punch a jerk who deserves it, and return to the same morning as if (no, because) none of it ever happened? What if you could press a reset button to undo everything you’ve done over the last several days?

Primer is a story about all of that, and while it’s easy to understand the danger presented at the movie’s conclusion, it’s difficult to follow everything occurring up to that point. What happens at the birthday party? Who is the guy following them? Where does the man who looks severely beaten come in? The story pushes into these paradoxes without full explanation, giving rise to explanatory videos like this one as well as webpages dedicated to spelling it all out.

Abe: “I’m not into the whole ‘destiny, there’s-only-one-right-way’ thing.”

Aaron: “Abe, I’m not either, but what’s worse? You know, thinking you’re being paranoid or knowing you should be?”

I enjoyed it overall, but it is dense. One reviewer said that though it’s a short movie, it feels longer due to the many details packed into every minute.

The CT 2016 Book Awards

Christianity Today has released the results of their annual book awards. Many attractive titles, including this one:

Science Fiction Theology: Beauty and the Transformation of the Sublime by Alan P. R. Gregory (Baylor University Press)

“Our culture is awash in science fiction. From post-apocalyptic young-adult blockbusters to hard sci-fi novels, the genre’s star has never burned more brightly. Science Fiction Theology demonstrates a masterful understanding of what makes it all tick. While the casual fan may find the book’s density off-putting, others will find themselves deeply edified by Gregory’s rigorous tracing of the dialogue between science fiction and Christianity. The dialogue, it turns out, is very lively, even when trafficking in distortions. The chapter on Philip K. Dick, an author criminally ignored by religious readers, is itself worth the price of admission.” —David Zahl, director of Mockingbird Ministries

(via Hunter Baker, who was a judge for these awards)

What’s Orbiting a Distant Star Will Astonish You

Or not.


Alien Armada by Bogwoppet on DeviantArt

Citizen scientists have been keen on a particular star since 2011 for its irregular light pattern, observed through Kepler Space Telescope. Irregular light patterns indicate object moving between us and the star, which could be planets, asteroids, tentacles of space squid, or the Borg. Any of those very realistic possibilities. The astronomers noted the star does not appear young, so debris surrounding young stars was ruled out. What could surround a mature star like this?

Jason Wright of Penn State suggested “the star’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures,'” Ross Anderson of The Atlantic reports, “perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked. Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

The science-side of the Interwebs has been abuzz with this news, but what can be understood from this observation? An article published in Scientific American earlier this year, which mentions Wright’s research, states nothing has been found. Writer Lee Billings explains Wright’s team’s goal.

They looked for the thermodynamic consequences of galactic-scale colonization, based on an idea put forth in 1960 by the physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson postulated that a growing technological culture would ultimately be limited by access to energy, and that advanced, energy-hungry civilizations would be driven to harvest all the available light from their stars. To do that, they might dismantle a planet or two as feedstock for building star-enveloping swarms of solar collectors. A star’s light would fade as it was encased in such a “Dyson sphere

Dyson himself is not discouraged by finding nothing. “Our imaginings about the ways that aliens might make themselves detectable are always like stories of black cats in a dark room,” he said. “If there are any real aliens, they are likely to behave in ways that we never imagined.”

Which means they probably aren’t hoping to eat us.

American Zombies: Enemies Next Door

Kurt Schlichter ruminates on our current obsession with zombies. Not long ago, many mainstream stories focused on foreign threats or nuclear fallout. Today, we entertain ourselves with mysterious outbreaks that turn people into flesh-eaters.

“What does it say,” Schlichter asks, “that our collective subconscious senses less of a threat from fanatical outsiders who, in the last couple decades, have killed thousands of us via terrorism, than from each other?

. . . The foreigners are a threat, but that’s under control. What is out of control, or what seems like it is out of control, is our society itself.”

Fantasy Dressed Up as Sci-Fi

Author John C. Wright argues against the ‘It Ain’t Gunna Happen’ camp of science fiction with his own Space Princess camp. One side says we will never find intelligent life on other planets or build our own colonies there. The other side says, not only is there intelligent life out there, but the women are remarkably hot and need to be rescued by noble earthmen.

One side says, “Psionics is just magic wearing a lab coat.” The other side says, “Without psionics, there is no way to speak and understand the space princess when you first meet her. Learning a new space-language without psionic aid involves many long and boring sessions with philologists and translators and grammarians, which is all hogwash and humbug. Space Princesses can read minds just enough so that you can talk to them. That is settled.”

You can see where this is going.

Is this kind of argument having assumed your conclusions really that different from the supposedly serious argument put forward in this Canadian propoganda, which says Science is a political value we must all support?

Rediscovering Pluto

Clyde Tombaugh had only graduated from Burdett High School in Burdett, Kansas, when we applied for a position at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. His family didn’t have the money to send him to college, so he studied on his own, assembled a portfolio, and presented himself to the observatory director, V. M. Slipher. While working there as a photographic assistant, he discovered two comets and variety of other stellar objects including Pluto.

We haven’t had a good look at the once-and-future-planet until today. NASA’s New Horizons probe is passing by Pluto, carrying Tombaugh’s ashes and sending photos back to us. Will we discover the truth of what many sci-fi authors have written about this place over the last 85 years? Gregory Benford describes some of those details.

In his first novel, World of Ptavvs, Larry Niven depicted an astronaut landing in the Plutonian atmosphere, his vessel’s hot exhaust releasing the frozen methane and oxygen and causing the entire planet to burst into flames. In a later story, Niven imagined an even odder fate. A stranded astronaut freezes, only to find that his nervous system has become superconducting and that he can still think, frozen solid. . . . My own 2006 novel, The Sunborn, has small, smart creatures thriving along the shore of Pluto’s supposed nitrogen sea.

John C. Wright on the death of freedom in Science Fiction

By way of our friend Anthony Sacramone (I’d link to his blog, but he’s in one of his hiatuses. Hiati?) an excellent article from Intercollegiate Review, “Heinlein, Hugos and Hogwash,” by John C. Wright concerning the sad state of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, an organization from which I have also withdrawn:

The purpose of all this hogwash is not to aid the plight of minorities. The purpose is power. The purpose is terror.

One need not ignite a suicide-bomb to enact a reign of terror. One need only have the power to hurt a man’s reputation or income, and be willing to use the power in an arbitrary, treacherous, lunatic, and cruel fashion. For this, the poisonous tongue suffices.

At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.

Read it all here.

Mars Hill Audio Podcast

I guess I missed the announcement this summer, because I just learned about Mars Hill Audio’s podcast, Audition. Ken Myers’ most recent recording is dedicated to P.D. James’s ideas on fiction and mystery and her sci-fi novel, The Children of Men. I believe I have heard most of this recording in early editions of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, and here you can listen to it for free.

The previous podcast has many literary subjects too. Taking from the description post, this recording discusses:

  • “how W. H. Auden’s conversion to Christianity affected his poetry”
  • “J. R. R. Tolkien’s view of language, and the dangers of a society that debases language”
  • “how Flannery O’Connor’s fiction reveals her incarnational view of life”
  • “how myth differs from the modern novel, and what is lost when the gods disappear from our stories”
  • “how C. S. Lewis was more open-minded than his Victorian atheistic teachers, and how that open-mindedness left room for Lewis to become a Christian”

Wonderful stuff.